(Spoiler alert: There is only one interesting scene in this entire film and I give it away. If you have any intention of seeing this movie – and you shouldn’t – stop reading now).
If you’re looking for a feel-good, knee slapping, laugh riot of a holiday movie and someone suggests The Homesman – keep looking. This dreary film is nothing but two hours of depression inducing dialogue voiced over a vast wasteland where even snakes won’t go. Don’t let the lure of fine actors like Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank sway you into thinking that with heavy hitters like that how can the movie not be stellar. It’s not. Oh, and did I mention that Meryl Streep is in it? I know she is the grand dame darling of the cinema but I think her over-acting is over-rated and she seems like a bitch.
The story takes place in the late 1800s out on the lonely prairies of Nebraska. Spring has sprung and after a particularly grueling winter holed up in cabins with their husbands, three young women have gone insane. One keeps muttering Bible passages to herself and throwing dead babies into the outhouse. Another tries repeatedly to kill her husband with a knife and the third sits in a catatonic state hugging a rag doll. This is not “The Real Housewives of Nebraska.” The catatonic actress just happens to be Meryl Streep’s daughter, Grace Gummer. Don’t you think with all of Meryl’s experience and years in Hollywood that at some point she would have said to her daughter, “Drop the Gummer.” First of all, forget that it doesn’t sound Hollywood. It’s also how the staff in nursing homes refer to old people who have lost their dentures. “The gummer in 3B lost his teeth again.” Gummer is not a name you want to see up in lights.
Anyway, poor Hillary Swank is a lonely single woman well past her prime of being able to snag a husband. She runs her own farm and looks pretty successful. She tends her fields, totes her water and slays her chickens. Why she wants a husband is beyond me, but she does. I mean she REALLY does. She is more desperate than a 55-year-old spinster in jeggings and heels sitting in the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings. We are first introduced to Hillary’s character, “Miz Cuddy,” when she invites the man whose property abuts hers over for dinner. She spends a lot of time setting the table, gathering flowers and spitting on her hair to make it even flatter and less attractive than it already is. It’s obvious she has more on her mind than impressing this man with her cooking and plowing skills.
Once dinner is over, the man tells Miz Cuddy that he brought her something and he has it in his pocket. Now, Cuddy is getting really excited because he’s either got a nice gift for her or he’s pulling that old trick about finding the trouser trout. Either way, she is dying to know what’s in his pants. Unfortunately, he brought her a hunk of cheese. That’s right. He kept a warm hunk of cheese wrapped up in a dirty piece of cloth in his pants all day just to surprise her. If this is any indication of the kind of men out there on the prairie, it’s no wonder these women lost their minds. Cuddy thanks him and then says she’s going to entertain him with a song. Now, I figured she’d pull out a little banjo or a harmonica or something, but no, she unwraps a shawl that she knitted a piano keyboard onto and then pretends to play while she sings. At this point, I was ready to just leave the theater and go see Horrible Bosses 2, but since I was with other people I couldn’t sneak out.
After the fake piano recital ends, Cuddy decides to just cut to the chase and asks the guy to marry her. He becomes horror stricken and backs away from the table. Since her spit-flat hair and piano shawl didn’t entice him she now tries to woo him by citing how their combined farms could prosper. Needless to say, that didn’t sweeten the deal and he blatantly tells her that he couldn’t marry her because she’s “as plain as a tin pail.” Obviously, this pocket cheese-toting hick thinks he can find some hot prairie babe to marry so he hightails it out the door and gallops away into the night. Cuddy calmly folds up her piano shawl and goes to bed.
I’m going to just give you a brief summary of what happens in the rest of the movie because in all honesty it’s not that interesting. The bottom line is that Cuddy volunteers to take the three crazy women across country to Iowa where some church has agreed to get them home to their families back east. She finds Tommy Lee Jones hanging from a tree in his underwear, not dead yet, and offers to save him if he agrees to go with her and help. The hard-drinking Jones agrees to go if she will pay him in liquor and money. So, Cuddy wraps up her piano shawl, buys a rigged out loony bin wagon complete with bars on the windows and a lock on the door and they set out. By this time, the only saving grace of this dull film was that more than an hour into it, it was still Meryl Streep-free.
As they cross the prairie they run into a snowstorm, Indians, and a mad man. Tommy Lee Jones gets drunk and every night he sings and dances around the campfire. The crazy women stay crazy. Cuddy shows up naked one night and asks Jones to marry her. He says no, but he will oblige her with some campfire sex under a bearskin. She obviously wanted to find out if all men only had cheese in their pants. Trust me, this love scene wasn’t as romantic as it sounds. It was more like Fifty Shades of Gross. The next morning Jones wakes up and Cuddy is missing. Eventually he finds her hanging from a tree. How bad was the sex that she’d rather kill herself than have to put out again? So, Jones is now left with the loony wagon and it’s crazy contents and he forges on to Iowa. As if his trek wasn’t bad enough, he’s hungry, he’s tired, he had a strange run in with James Spader in a bad wig, he’s had to bury his last lay and when he arrives in Iowa the first person he meets is Meryl Streep.
Meryl is only on camera for the last ten minutes of the film but I’m sure she will be nominated and win an Academy Award for her performance. She praises Jones for his selfless act and fawns and gushes over his bravery. He only stutters once and that’s when she asks him where Miz Cuddy is. He tells her she “fell ill with the fever and died.” Meryl gives him one of her Academy Award winning eyebrow raises and then peers into the wagon. She is clearly taken aback by the condition of the wackos and hesitates for just a moment before she smiles that Meryl Streep smile and unlocks the door. Now, I don’t know what happened after she took the crazies in, but if I had made this movie I would have had them kill her in her sleep. It would have been a slow, torturous death filmed in 3D. But I digress.
The last few minutes of the film concentrate on Jones getting cleaned up, gambling in the saloon and then having a wooden tombstone made for Miz Cuddy. It looks like he had every intention of going back to the scene of the sex/hanging/burial site and leaving a memorial to a woman who most likely would have been forgotten. Instead, Jones gets drunk on a ferry, dances and sings with some other drunks and the tombstone slips silently into the water. Blackout. The credits roll, the lights come up and the theater audience is silent. They are either asleep or have fashioned garrotes out of shoelaces and straws and have strangled themselves to death. Luckily, I was still alive but will forever have to deal with the fact that I saw this movie instead of Horrible Bosses 2.